Monthly Archives: April 2012

mark

Mark’s #15 – Evangellyfish by Doug Wilson

Best known as a reformed theologian, professor, and Christian apologist (he went on tour debating Christopher Hitchens), in Evangellyfish, Doug Wilson turns his cunning insight toward contemporary American mega-church evangelicalism with witty prose and comical satire.

Evangellyfish is a story of the dysfunctional life of pastor Chad Lester in particular, and much that is wrong with evangelicalism in general – especially large, mega-church evangelicalism’s emphasis on church as a production, and faith as a personal journey of discovery (without all that emphasis on sin, repentance, blood, atonement, justification, etc.).

The strengths of this novel are twofold.  First, Wilson writing is very engaging and funny.  Anyone who has spent time among us evangelical Christians will find much to laugh about.

For example:

Many Americans have complained of too many hellfire and damnation sermons in their past, but Bradford was one of the 112 individuals in our generation who had actually heard one.

Second, sadly, this book would be pure comedy if it wasn’t so true to real life situations.  For each of the great dysfunctions either with Camel Creek mega-church and the scandal and sins of its pastor and staff, I could think of specific churches or pastors that fit the satire perfectly.  Don’t get me wrong, I have some background in a mega-church.  I don’t think it is inherently wrong to have a large flock.  I think there are some real strengths that many mega-churches contribute to the kingdom.   Nevertheless, the more the church becomes an institution that mirrors the world and it’s marketing, there is a tendency for the church to become institutionalized and worldly (yes, this can happen in the smallest churches as well, it’s just that the mega-churches have the budget and resources to magnify their worldliness to a much greater degree).

In conclusion, I enjoyed this book and Wilson’s indirect critiques of the current state of Evangelicalism.  There were times when it was a bit hard to follow the plot, but Wilson’s witticisms made for an engaging read.  Rather than focusing almost exclusively on the American mega-church, Wilson could have probably done a better job casting a broader satirical net on Evangelicalism.

JRF

JRF’s #4 – A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

100 hundred years ago failed pencil sharpener salesman Edgar Rice Burroughs (creator of Tarzan) birthed the Science Fiction Adventure/Romance genre.  This book is the first of 11 in the Barsoom series (Barsoom apparently being the indigenous name for Mars).

This book and this series have literally inspired generations of filmmakers and storytellers.  Superman, Star Wars, Avatar, and Stargate are among the many well known stories that find their source material in this classic.  In fact the extent to which some of those stories are ripped off border on shameless at times.  For example the words Jedi, Sith and Banth all come from Burrows’ tale.

The plot of A Princess of Mars centers around John Carter, a former Confederate Soldier who is mysteriously transported to Mars.  Here, thanks to his fearless courage, valor, and unearthly strength (due to the lesser gravity of Mars) he finds himself alternately getting in and out of danger.  Eventually John Carter falls in love with the the most beautiful girl on his or her planet, Dejah Thoris, princess of the martian kingdom of Helium (yes. Helium).

Though the writing and plot of this book is nothing that would make an English teacher excited, what makes this story so compelling and classic it its ability to tap into that deep desire of every boy to be a hero and every girl to be rescued by her knight in shining armor (cue feminist retort).  John Carter is not a complicated character, but it is exactly his uncompromising chivalry and uncomplicated nobility that makes him such a compelling protagonist.

100 years later the film John Carter, based on this book, made history as one of the worst flops of all time.  While this is unfortunate, as I think the film to be quite good, I do believe that if the filmmakers had stayed closer to the plot of the book, the film would have been much more successful.

 

 

Ally

Ally’s #19: Mozart’s Sister by Nancy Moser

Last week, I was in the mood for a quick, easy read as a break from some heavier reading. This fun, historically-based novel did the trick. The author got much of her material from letters the Mozart family wrote and cataloged over roughly two decades of travel and performing.

As a young child, I was greatly influenced by the love for classical music held by my great-grandfather, grandfather, and mother. When I got my first stereo in 4th grade, I listened to tapes of classical giants, like Mozart and Chopin, as well as contemporary geniuses, like New Kids on the Block, Boys II Men, and Mariah Carey. For all of my learning and interest, I never realized that Mozart had a sister…or that he was a self-absorbed jerk. The renown of some tends to separate them in the public eye beyond the bounds of average human life: having a family, having a childhood, being a jerk, and so on.

Even in a book told from the point of view of his sister, Nannerl Mozart, little Wolfie (Wolfgang Amadeus) overshadows her. As a precocious five-year-old, Wolfie is tender-hearted, a little outspoken, and leaps into the laps of royalty for hugs after his performances. As he grew in age, he grew in talent–sadly, he did not grow as much in maturity. For years, his well-meaning and extremely proud father, Leopold, told Wolfie he was “God’s gift to music.” One can only go so long hearing such things before believing it, internalizing, and living it out in one’s actions and words.

Nannerl was Wolfie’s elder by six years, and though believed to be equal in talent to Mozart, was not regarded or groomed as such by her father. It seems her talents were not considered as impressive because she was older and because she was a girl. Rather than being encouraged to compose like her brother, she was told that she needed to spend her time practicing. Her practice, however, was not always rewarded with opportunities to showcase her talents at concerts. As children, she and Wolfie would perform duets, but as adolescents, Nannerl was left at home while her brother and father toured. The excuse was that it was too costly for the family of four to travel.

Much of the Mozart story revolves around money–or the lack of it. Leopold was forever preoccupied with sharing his son’s musical genius with the world, providing for his family, and securing a permanent, paid position for Wolfie. He sacrificed much, was indefatigable, and burned some important bridges along the way. Nannerl and her mother were also expected to sacrifice much. Wolfie seemed very unaware of what sacrifices were made on his account and went into adulthood unwilling to make any sacrifices in return. Perhaps the saddest part of the story was when Nannerl, the aging woman with few prospects of marrying, was denied the opportunity to become the wife of a man she truly loved because Wolfie pissed off her fiancees boss. It would be challenging to forgive a brother who did something like that.

If you’re looking for something more meaningful than a romance novel but not super challenging intellectually, give this book a shot. Be prepared for whatever good impressions you had of Mozart to be ruined with reality.

**Sorry there’s no book image…I tried ten times and it’s just not working.

JRF

JRF’s #3 – Hitler’s Cross by Erwin Lutzer

Adolph Hitler’s rise to power did not happen in a vacuum.  In this thought-provoking book, pastor Erwin Lutzer traces the story of how Hitler’s Nazis came to power in the very heartland of the Protestant Reformation.  Through tracing the cultural, theological and political storylines of pre-World War II Germany Lutzer skillfully shows what happens when patriotism, nationalism, and humanism are given a higher place than the Gospel and Biblical fidelity in the church.

It was at once fascinating and terrifying to examine how Hitler deceived, seduced, and hijacked the German church to serve his diabolical purposes.  It was also inspiring to learn of the brave few believers who stood against both Hitler and the apostate church at the cost of their reputation and lives.

Lutzer gives much food for thought in regard to how this “christian” nation with such a rich theological history was so easily led down such a Satanic path…and what that means for the American church.  While I at times think Lutzer overgeneralizes or connects dots through assumption rather than hard facts, his assumptions are well worth considering.

I leave you with a few questions:  Were the church-going German people any less depraved than you and me?  Why were they able to silence their conscience and give tacit or even enthusiastic approval to the slaughter of their neighbors?  Are we as American Christians susceptible or even guilty of conveniently being apathetic to injustice or even genocide in our own midst?  Have we put our faith in the power of politics over the power of the Cross?

Read Hitler’s Cross to have your mind engaged and your soul stirred to stand for the Gospel at the cost of your life, for the good of your neighbor, and to the glory of God.

 

“Denying God and casting down the cross is never a merely private decision that concerns only my own inner life and my personal salvation, but this denial immediately brings the most brutal consequences for the whole of historical life and especially for our own people.  ’God is not mocked.’  The history of the world can tell us terrible tales based on that text.”

- Helmut Thielicke

 

“The Cross reminds us that the battle is not so much between church and state as it is within our own hearts.  If Christ has all of us, if the Cross stands above politics and the world as Bonhoeffer has reminded us, we shall overcome regardless of the cost.”

 

 

ron

Ron’s #13: Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Animals. Religion. India. Philosophy. Shipwreck. Friendship. Stories. Survival. Canada.

Life of Pi tells the story of sixteen-year-old Pi Patel, a unique young man growing up at a family zoo in India. As an act of faith, Pi takes on Hinduism, Islam, and Catholicism without any problems of contradiction. Soon, his faith is tested as he is shipwrecked in the Pacific with a strange companion to share a lifeboat.

There is much to this book. It’s an easy read in terms of story, but there are many aspects that require reflection and discussion. While I disagree with some of the notions of Yann’s religion and his worldview, I do feel like it is an excellent portrayal of struggling to live and struggling to believe.

Yann Martel is a formidable writer who created a wonderful story that you’ll think about long after you close the book. In fact, you’ll even question whether the story you just read really is the story you just read.

The movie version is coming out 12/2012. I’m eager to see how it will work considering much of the novel is philosophical musing. I’m also eager to see how Tobey Maguire can play a teenaged Indian boy.

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